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The transformation of human services


Professor Hans Reinders, Faculty of Theology, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands (e-mail:


Background  Recent studies in the development of professionalism suggest that western society witnesses a transformation of professional practices in human services that deeply affects how professionals experience their work. This paper describes key aspects of this development and presents an account of how it can be explained.

Method  The paper offers a review of the main features of neoliberal managerialism as it is found in the literature. The paper does not assume a meta-theoretical perspective on this literature but rather presents an account on the level of description of what the literature interprets as a transformation of professional practices. Its method is therefore to report the main features of what the literature describes as neoliberal changes in human services.

Results  The review results in an account of the transformation of professionalism in human services that shows two sides. One is that of opposing logics that present the tensions between professionalism and managerialism in terms of conflict. The other side is that of compliance of professionals who seek to find their way in the new realities of a neoliberal service economy.

Conclusions  I conclude that neoliberal managerialism presents serious challenges to professionals in human services to remain faithful to the values of their profession, and that these challenges – on the level of neoliberal society – raise a serious issue about social (dis)trust.